One of the best chefs in the world likes to sit blissfully anonymous at a Miami Beach sidewalk cafe, savoring stone crab claws.
Eric Ripert, chef at the Michelin-rated three-star seafood-focused Le Bernardin in New York, is a silver fox with piecing blue eyes, unmistakable to those who watch the Food Network or follow fine dining.
But there’s nothing he likes better than biking from his 60th Street Miami Beach apartment, which he visits once a month, and eating fresh fish at the lovingly run mom-and-pop seafood restaurant Fifi’s Seafood, then going next door to Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine where he might order a cafecito for him and his wife in fluent Spanish.
“In parts of Miami, it’s easier to speak Spanish,” Ripert, 51, says in French-accented English during a phone interview from San Francisco.
His dinner Thursday night will be decidedly less low-key.
Six of Miami’s top chefs will prepare a menu inspired by Ripert, the French-born chef who has influenced cuisine throughout America, at The Cafe at Books & Books on June 2. The six-course, $175-a-person meal will follow a discussion with Ripert at the Arsht Center about his recent book 32 Yolks (Random House), a raw, evocative memoir that left even the deadpan Anthony Bourdain breathless. The event includes a signed copy of the book. (The speaking event alone, with a signed memoir, costs $40.)
Chef Timon Balloo can quote the cookbook (On the Line,), page (175) and recipe (braised baby octopus) where he sees the effect Ripert has had on modern restaurants. He will prepare a version of Ripert’s dish for the event.
“You can’t go to a restaurant now and not see octopus on the menu. He was doing it long ago,” said Balloo, who prepares a tender, mouthwatering version at his own Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Midtown. “He is a trendsetter. That’s what Eric Ripert has meant to our cuisine today.”
And that includes Miami’s dining scene.
Although Le Bernardin has been his sole restaurant and passion since taking over for the late chef Gilbert Le Coze, Ripert has been affecting Miami’s fine dining for decades.
He and Le Coze, who himself influenced a generation of chefs with his innovation at Le Bernardin, helped create the menu at the former Brasserie Le Coze in Coconut Grove. (It closed only after Le Coze’s death in 1994.) Ripert also helped create the menus for the restaurants at the Raleigh Hotel and The Standard when they opened.
“Oh, I am a local,” he says. “Miami used to be about models and nightclubs, but today Miami has a lot of great restaurants that are successful.”
Since then, he has watched Miami’s dining culture grow and evolve to where it is today. He said he recently had great meals at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar and Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau. And whether its in hip Wynwood or trendy Miami Beach, he sees more restaurants demanding the freshest local ingredients and treating them with greater skill.
“They are in touch with the region, they support their local farms, their fishermen,” said Ripert, who often drives to a secret spot in Key Largo for fresh-caught fish. “And the community supports them.”
A non-fiction and cookbook buff, Kilgore is absorbed in 32 Yolks and said he wants to give Ripert a dish Thursday that is “a little bit Florida, a little bit French, a little bit me”: a porcini mushroom and conch tartare that’s sure to be as styled as his other dishes at Alter.
The lesson he takes from Ripert? “There’s something to be said for continuing to seek perfection at the same restaurant,” Kilgore said. “The path never ends. You never stop learning. You never stop creating.”
Ripert can say the same for his adopted South Florida: “Something’s happening in Miami, no?”
If you go
What: In “An Evening with Eric Ripert,” six of Miami’s top chefs will create a dish inspired by Ripert. Chefs preparing dishes will be Timon Balloo, Michelle Bernstein, Wolfgang Birk, Brad Kilgore, Jose Mendin and Allan Susser. The dinner follows a discussion of his new book ‘32 Yolks.’
When: 7: 30 p.m. June 2.
Where: The discussion will be at The Peacock Foundation Studio at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The meal will follow at the adjacent Cafe at Books & Books.